The new year is poised on the edge of change

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, January 08, 2003

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

Birth, death and rebirth, the episodic cycle plays out on all scales. Minute creatures emerge, die and from their corpses new life arises. From life comes life in a chain reaching back so far we have no idea of the beginnings, and as far into the future as we can imagine, but for our own experience there is only change. Old days turn to night. Long nights into dawn and dawn to midday.

The thick carpet of snow that bundled our world harbors the dormant shapes of last years' garden, and when the rains and sun wipe it away all that it concealed will be different. The flowers that will come will be new and each leaf that emerges will be unique. Our lives will be different too. People we love will be gone, new loves will be born, small victories and great losses will never balance, but the changes will go on.

Our faith is always being tested, challenges appear in unexpected places and we are forced to realize that the only constant is the flow of old into new, past into future, then into now. We, in the words of the wise people, are always getting ready, keeping our tools and our sinews prepared. The seemingly solid surface of the world can shift in an instant and only the prepared will prosper or survive. "Chance favors the prepared."

The new years' garden will contain some of the lives of last year, many familiar shapes and presences will return, some stronger and ready for another year of growth. Some will be transformed by this passage into new forms, each season some lives change away. What persists is the place they have made in our lives. Our days and years with them can never be gone, and the new lives we embrace will be sifted into our own and into those of the past through us.

Each time we rearrange our flowerbed, each new tree we plant, and each branch we rearrange is woven into the fabric of our lives. The garden I tend today is still the very first one I ever knew. Each of the trees I pruned with my father bears fruit in my orchard and all the bulbs I buried with my mother bloom in my yard each spring. The whole of life is wrapped into each new life, each touch and passing glance remain forever in the garden we pass through on our own way.

Beginnings and plantings are intermixed with growing and fruiting, dying and transforming into new lives. Those experiences I shared with my parents and the paths they guided me along are the ones I can show my own children, and all the children I know. Our world is filled with networks of people, gardens, and wild places we experience. Each helps shape the response to the next. History does not just repeat itself, it creates itself.

Our gardens are metaphors for our lives. Each moment we spend with a plant connects us to all the other times we did so, and to the company of those who were with us then. We carry that history to each time we plant with another. The whole story is repeated from the beginning each time it is told, only the newest parts are added. Oral history is shorter than experiential history. Some stories were old before they could be told.

Changes are brought before us, or we bring them on ourselves, and we weave them into our ongoing lives. Some are welcomed and some dreaded but none can be avoided. Denying change only brings more change, the tree with the broken limb can be trimmed or the whole tree will die. Cutting the wound smoothly may speed healing and the tree will change into some new shape, or it will succumb to decay and become some new life.

Lives, patterns, relationships and whole societies whirl along in this maelstrom of transformation, some of our friends will not be here with us when spring comes, but they will always be here with us all our lives. Goodbye Ruth. You are one of the loveliest people I ever knew.

Our nursery will be changed next year. We will be building another, and something else will be where we were. The change into the new is our opportunity for recreation.

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